Alice in Wonderland

Oh, what to do with poor Alice? This was the question swimming through my mind as I sauntered out of the theater last Friday. In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit right now that Burton’s Gothic stylings often strike a chord with me. Sweeney Todd was a dream come true. Early images from Alice revealed brilliant visual re-interpretations of classic characters such as the Mad Hatter and the Red Queen. From an aesthetic standpoint, Alice constitutes a sumptuous feast. Yet our parents used to warn us that snacks before dinner could ruin our appetites, and the same lesson applies here. The ad campaign promoting the movie has been so vicious and aggressive in distributing images from the movie that I nearly felt as though I’d seen it before even stepping into the theater. Full-screen pop-up, trailers, and the like ate away at my ability to enjoy the movie, itself…despite my best efforts to avoid them.

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Avatar certainly could have been a disaster, a technological husk with no soul. Worse, the reliance on CG characters could have landed it smack dab in the uncanny valley…the realm where special effects wizards attempt to match reality but reap unsettling and awkward results. Beyond all reasonable expectations, however, Avatar must be considered a smashing success.

It’s easy to see why 3D has been pushed in lock step with Avatar; the film melds CG and reality to create breathtaking scenes and believable characters. The eye candy on offer simply hasn’t been paralleled this year. But Avatar’s most significant technological feat lies in its ability to confuse the viewer. Halfway through, I had entirely lost track of what was and wasn’t CG. The main characters, though some of them were alien, appeared to be fully-fleshed entities, and the world surrounding them was simultaneously impossible and yet flawlessly presented before my eyes.

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Repo: The Genetic Opera

Phantom of the Opera
Sweeney Todd
Moulin Rouge

Here…let me save you some time. If you liked any three of the four listed above, RUN to your nearest video store. You’ve got an unforgettable 90 minutes ahead of you. If not, keep reading- there may be hope yet.

Repo: The Genetic Opera is classed as a rock opera. Like a normal opera, there is little to no spoken dialogue. The music, however combines the melodic and lyrical cleverness of Sweeney Todd with the industrial riffs of Korn or Nine Inch Nails. If you like the aforementioned bands, Within Temptation, Nightwish, Therion, or even Sarah Brightman, you can stop reading and hit one click purchase. More time potentially saved….

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Appleseed Ex Machina

The first Appleseed film (from 2004) was quite a treat. The cell-shaded CG graphics looked very good for the time. Complementing this obvious standout aspect was an intriguing story and an excellent soundtrack. It’s worth noting that the story, in particular, felt like a genuinely original re-animation of sci-fi concepts.

Fast forward to today and we have the sequel, Appleseed Ex Machina. It’s pretty simple to separate what works and doesn’t in Machina:

The level of detail in the graphics has improved dramatically, and characters look less like geometric objects with textures painted on and more like genuine people. The cityscapes are even more impressive. Furthermore, the action is more frequent and looks even slicker.

My two gripes with the visuals are these: First, in what is all too common in action movies like this, the best scene is the first one. Hands down. I don’t understand why so many directors feel the need to frontload their movies. I will say that the movie is less guilty of this than its predecessor. Second, movement outside of action scenes still looks a bit jerky. Some might fault mo-cap technology, but for my money, Final Fantasy: Advent Children boasted some mighty believable movement.

Here’s where Ex Machina falls apart. The story here isn’t anything you haven’t seen executed better in anime/other entertainment. Compared to the plot of the first movie- which created a unique sci-fi framework, this one felt like a filler episode. The villain was cliche, the story far less complex/meaningful than the first, and any intrigue or mystery the story might yet have held was ruined by the horrible writing. The film tasks itself with letting the viewer in on a number of concepts necessary to the plot, but rather than integrate them seamlessly into the dialog, it bashes the viewer over the head with them.

The soundtrack wasn’t bad- I just didn’t notice it most of the time. This constitutes a slight letdown considering how often I return to the soundtrack from the first movie.

OVERALL: Ex Machina is a sight to behold and warrants a blu-ray purchase. Just don’t expect it to expand much on the ideas introduced in the first Appleseed.

t thX eo?meone who hopes Boyle returns to direct the inevitable third movie, this change bother me most of all.

Weeks still struck me as the second best zombie movie I’ve ever seen. The action is tight, the sights are breathtaking, and the plotting is fast enough to account for deficiencies in depth. Just don’t be surprised that director Fresnadillo hasn’t managed to one-up Danny Boyle- few can, right?
Image Source: IMDB

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28 Weeks Later

In order to review 28 Weeks Later, it’s necessary to say something about 28 Days Later:

This first leg of the franchise managed to transcend the genre by putting characters at the forefront and weaving poignant moments and themes through an unpredictable narrative. Sure, it was a zombie movie, but it wasn’t JUST a zombie movie.

Days also managed to function as a well-oiled piece of science fiction. It established the rules regarding the “rage virus” and then set our protagonists free to work against it.

Simply put, 28 Days Later is not only a classic of the horror genre, but one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen.

So where does Weeks stand? Separated from its forebear, Weeks is a more than competent zombie thriller. It features some truly beautiful cinematography in spots (though there’s a good deal of the ever-popular “shaky camera” work to bring the film down in this category). The action is also quite good in spots- there’s a kill scene about 2/3 of the way through that won’t be soon forgotten.

Viewed as a sequel to 28 Days Later, Weeks is all over the place. It needs to be said that the first 30 minutes made me feel like I was watching a true successor to Days. Somehow, the intimacy of strangers so well captured in Days had been resurrected.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t hold up as well. By the halfway point, the plot has degenerated into the genre standards. It executes them well, But the movie no longer feels like Days- no matter how much the score claims otherwise.

On a particularly disturbing note, the film breaks continuity with Days regarding the contagious nature of the virus. People get splattered with zombie blood and walk away no different than before. As someone who hopes Boyle returns to direct the inevitable third movie, this change bother me most of all.

Weeks still struck me as the second best zombie movie I’ve ever seen. The action is tight, the sights are breathtaking, and the plotting is fast enough to account for deficiencies in depth. Just don’t be surprised that director Fresnadillo hasn’t managed to one-up Danny Boyle- few can, right?
Image Source: IMDB

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I’ve seen some films with narrow audiences, but this takes the cake. The film has the most to offer to somebody who values the Old Testament (specifically Christians and Jews) due to the number of OT references along with a couple of NT refs. Thematically, the film explores some of the more troubling concepts in Christianity, especially.

What, you say? There are plenty of Christians and Jews. Well, all of the philosophy and theology is heavily wrapped up in one of the most graphic serial killer films to come around in some time. Not only are there some graphic images (grisly stuff as well as a pretty graphic sex scene), the language invites even worse images than appear on screen.

So for the Christian or Jew that can get past the above, this is an extremely interesting film. Come for a psychological thriller with superlative acting and cinematography, stay for the way the director plays with Biblical concepts and forces you to think.

Finally, I’ll say 1 more thing for those who are still on the fence. The film begins with a quote from Dostoevsky. In retrospect, the choice is incredibly apt; I feel that Dostoevsky could have written this had he lived now. If the names Ivan and Raskolnikov bring forth positive memories, then you’re in for a treat.

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Right at Your Door

NOTE: When I wrote this review a while back, it contained some small spoilers.  I’ve reordered this review so that this part is at the end and partitioned off for those who don’t want to read it.  Moving along….

“WOW” was the word I kept silently mouthing as I watched this film. Cinematography, flawless acting, and an endlessly foreboding tone and script come together  in Right at Your Door for the most engrossing cinematic experience I’ve had in some time.
In a rare turn, the script and direction trust the intelligence of the viewer. In particular, subtle use of the radio provides small doorways into the current psychological states of the characters. Hence, the film isn’t nearly as interesting or engaging if the viewer does not surrender their full attention. For the right viewer, however, that won’t be the slightest problem. Additionally, there are any number of nuances to the relationships between the main characters; catching them all requires even more attentiveness. The director isn’t hiding these things, however. These extra spices simply contribute to the feeling that the audience is watching real people. Plot points aren’t telegraphed 20 minutes in advance in real life.

This riveting package comes in a small box. It was filmed on a small budget, but the claustrophobic quarters that provide the setting for the majority of the movie only add to the horror and futility of the situation. Considering that this is Chris Gorak’s first film, I haven’t been this excited about a debut since Shane Carruth’s Primer (what’s HE up to now?). Hitchcock ain’t got nothin’ on Chris Gorak!

Highly, HIGHLY Recommended!
Slight spoilers follow, but they all follow under this umbrella: “This is a small interpersonal story taking place within your typical disaster movie.”

Another strenth of the script? It employs a gritty realism via the only source of information the main characters have on hand: the radio news station. The story of the disaster that has befallen the outer world unfolds through this mechanism, the application of which should trigger memories of 9/11 for all but the most obtuse. The comparison, however, is never explicitly made, and the implied connection between the American disaster and the events in this film is applied with finesse and grace.
Image Source: IMDB

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